For Andrew W.K. partying isn’t an art - it’s just life.
The 36-year-old singer and entertainer best known for his jock-jammy 2001 hit “Party Hard” doesn’t see partying as living out any rockstar cliches (aside from the occasional bloody-faced album cover). In fact, calling fresh off a game of cosmic bowling in Fargo, North Dakota, W.K. couldn’t sound more relaxed and thoughtful talking about the necessity of celebration.
Despite not having released music in the U.S. since 2009’s 55 Cadillac, W.K. keeps busy chasing partying as the meaning of life, in between gigs co-owning a Manhattan dance club and contributing a surprisingly thoughtful advice column to New York’s Village Voice. He even found time to co-produce a Grammy-nominated album by legendary dub artist Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Ahead of W.K.’s solo show tonight at the Triple Rock Social Club, the original party-rocker gave a generous amount of his time to explain why he doesn’t think of himself as a musician and how he feels partying is the “most fun activity I can think of.” Wanna party with W.K.? The Meet Andrew W.K. Party goes down at 5 p.m. at Dead Media.
City Pages: Your persona is so tied to the art that you make. What is the first question that interviewers always ask you?
Andrew W.K.: Certainly not this one. So that’s noted and appreciated, it’s a great question. Not really anyone in particular, just maybe “How are you?” You know, “How are you doing?” That’s probably the most common one.
If it’s more like the official interview portion, I guess people oftentimes have asked me about partying, my definition of the word “party” or “partying,” or to help a reader who is unfamiliar with anything I’ve done, to help them understand what I mean by partying. That’s a pretty common one.
CP: Totally. So what is that definition?
W.K.: It’s quite a broad word, is the answer I usually give. I do try to keep my answers interesting, not always the same, but there are some things that just are what they are. This is probably one of those questions I can really only answer the same way, which is, most people already know what partying is, and I don’t have to define it. That’s one of the reasons I was very drawn to that word and concept, that activity, that mindset, that phenomenon, myself, because it was very straightforward and very pure and joyful.
It’s really a physical and emotional state of celebration. It can take many different forms, it can be done in many different ways, and I think that’s part of the appeal as well. People can party in any way that suits them. I don’t usually tell people how to party, but it’s usually about looking at life itself as more of a party. Having this chance to exist is an incredible event that is worthy of our gratitude and oftentimes, when we’re thankful, we’re thankful for the weekend or the new year or thankful for our birthday or the birthday of someone else, [and] we celebrate that. So thinking of life itself as this great event to be thankful for, we can party every day.
CP: That’s such a positive way of looking at it. But how has that word changed for you over the years? Has partying always meant the same thing to you, or do you think it’s taken on a new shape as you’ve gotten older?
W.K.: I feel like you could ask a two-year-old child, and they would have a good understanding of partying, more less how I just described it - that it’s something very fun and that you do that makes you happy and that you do when you’re excited about [something]. I could probably ask someone who was 93-years-old and they would probably say the same thing.
Again, people can choose to celebrate in different ways. Even day-to-day or week-to-week, someone might celebrate by going out with their friends to a dance club, and maybe the next night that same person might celebrate by staying home and cooking a meal with their family. Then the next night that person might celebrate by sitting calmly, thinking about life.
I don’t know that it necessarily evolves. It’s a concept that is very vast, so I think people can choose to party in different ways, whatever they want. For me, it’s always been pretty basic — again, that’s the appeal.
When I was trying to think of some things to dedicate myself to, I try to think of the most fun activity I could think of, and that’s always been partying. Most people understand the idea of partying, is that it’s fun and that it’s something that makes life good.
CP: You said that when you were young you committed yourself to the idea of having the most fun you possibly can, but that sounds difficult. How did you commit yourself to that?
W.K.: I just thought that I should do something in life. Around age 4 until around 17-18, my main occupation was going to school. And I really didn’t want to go anymore.
So I thought I should try to find something else to do with most of my time. I had already had a lot of jobs up to that point too. I figured I’d continue to have different jobs, but maybe there was a life work that I could have, like a job that included everything else in it.
I thought that if it was going to be something that I was going to work on for my whole life, that it should be appealing in some way, and fun that was on a level that was so deeply satisfying and all-encompassing that it wasn’t really a distraction or an escape from life, but a way deeper into life.
[I] just decided that life itself was actually the most amazing thing that I could think of, and I was really glad because I already got to do that by being alive, so it wasn’t something that I had to figure out or start doing. I just had to realize that I was alive and, you know, celebrate it.
CP: At least in the beginning, music was an avenue for you to keep on celebrating.
W.K.: I was pretty fortunate to have music start at same time as going to school and all that, just having piano lessons around age 4. That was right around the same time I was learning how to read and do all those kind of things, walk, ride a bike, talk. It’s just a primary skill, one of those fundamental abilities that just became part of the day-to-day fabric of life. I never really thought of it as a career so much.
I didn’t think of it as any separate from life any more than you would think of being able to read as separate from life. It’s part of what life is. Music’s been there for as long as I can remember. I never imagined life without it or with it in a way that it’s become now. It was proof to me that life had to be good — it was one of the first things I could always refer to, in those moments of questioning or doubt, where you’re trying to figure out what life is, what you’re supposed to feel about life. I thought, clearly if something like music could exist so naturally and easily and accessibly then there’s got to be some true fundamental goodness to life itself.
CP: That’s poignant. So was it weird to you when you were suddenly considered a musician and labelled as such?
W.K.: Not really. I was more surprised as life went on, towards the time at the end of high school when I was thinking about what I was supposed to do with life. It never really occurred to me that I could do or that I should do or what I was meant to do or supposed to do anything in relation to this elemental part of who I was. I always thought that you figure out something interesting to do, developing skills and later and finding a career path. It just seemed very unlikely to me that all the things I already was would have any useful applications.
Of course, it turned out to be opposite. All the things that were the most basic parts of me from the beginning were the things that I ended up centering my whole work around. Music — I didn’t think you could make a career out of doing what I’m doing.
It just seemed so impossible — I thought that [you had to be] a scientist, or learn a certain craft or trade. I suppose music, in a way, is a skill, in that regard. [But] it was so up-close and specific to me that it felt like someone making a career out of just being Andrew W.K. I didn’t think that was possible.
I definitely still don’t think of myself in the traditional sense as a musician or an artist or anything like that, I just think of it as me, really out of respect for people that are highly skilled and much more skilled than I am at playing music or making what I would consider art.
But that’s not so important to me. I really don’t feel like what I’m doing is expressing myself so much as just being myself. Most of this work isn’t really telling about my experiences in life or my stories, oftentimes it’s using my experiences to get somewhere else, a means to an end. That end being this type of pure excitement, pure energy, pure joy, pure enthusiasm about not being dead. That’s always been my goal, and if I can use myself as a vehicle for that for other people, then I feel very thankful and useful.CP: One thing that you’re really known for is your energy. I also discovered recently that you helped produce an album for [legendary Jamaican dub artist] Lee “Scratch” Perry. How did your two energies mesh?
W.K.: I met him during an interview years ago. I can’t remember when we recorded that album [2008’s Repentance], I think 2009 or something.
Of course, I’d been very familiar with him prior to that, so I was very excited to meet him and getting to speak with him. Like so many other people, I always admired his singular qualities, and how he was able to harness those and amplify them through what he does. My experience with him [is that] he’s a creative master force who, despite his impact and his influence and mastery, is still going strong and is still in it, perhaps even more deeply than he ever has been. He’s completely committed to being himself and being in the work. It’s not something that’s in the past, it’s not something that he’s already done. It’s something that he’s continuing to do.
Getting to be around him was extremely powerful and very inspiring. Any time you’re in the presence of a master, you can feel it. And it feels good. He has that same kind of feeling like, "If he can exist, then life must be good." He has those same attributes that music itself has.
So naturally I would want to do anything that would serve that, contribute to that, to support that, like anyone else ... It’s one of the most privileged, rewarding experiences I ever had.
CP: On the note of human-to-human interaction, what inspires you to keep finding life so amazing today?
W.K.: I feel like life depends upon that. I don’t think I would have the will to live if I didn’t find it enjoyable. Oftentimes, it hasn’t felt very enjoyable, which is obviously unpleasant, but it’s also very motivating, and it challenges [me] to try to stay close to joy and find truths in life that prove it to be meaningful and exciting.
[Life is] an impossible-to-fathom adventure, and you want to become worthy of it. I feel like it’s my duty to continue thinking about it and being in it as much as I can, otherwise I don’t feel like I would survive.
CP: Changing gears a little bit, you’re going to be in Minneapolis Wednesday. What’s going on with this new tour?
W.K.: Nothing in particular. I hadn’t played in Minneapolis for awhile, and I really wanted to — I recorded a good portion of my first album in Minneapolis, so I’ve always had a really strong feeling and a lot of gratitude toward that city. I just feel like it’s a very special place to me.
I wanted to come and I was thankful we had the chance to get the show last minute. A lot of my tours, they’re not really even what I would call "tours." They’re not planned out a year in advance.
CP: I wasn’t aware that your recorded parts of I Get Wet in Minneapolis. What brought you to Minneapolis to record?
W.K.: It was right before we started mixing the album. I’d been working on the album for two years up to that point — to get the album ready for mixing, we worked in Minneapolis for about two months. It was great — I just really enjoyed the whole feeling of the place.
CP: Actually, we originally wanted this article to be "Andrew W.K.’s Hard-Partying Guide to the Twin Cities." Is there anything about the Twin Cities you remember enjoying?
W.K.: We were staying at the Residence Inn hotel, which I think then was brand new. It was part of what I believe was a revitalization of the riverfront — a converted, industrial-type area. I really liked that.
Every morning, we would go and exercise at the Target Center. There was an egg breakfast place, I think called Egg and I, like The King and I. We ate breakfast there almost every day.
There was a great adult bookstore, I think it was called Sex World.
CP: Totally. Did you go in?
W.K.: Yeah, it was very impressive. Just the size of it, it was one of the largest adult bookstores that I’d ever seen. That was the first time I’d ever been to the Minneapolis or St. Paul area … I definitely got a sense that there were some aspects of the city that were pretty locked-down, so I appreciated the contrast that was to be found in a place like Sex World.
I wanted to come [back] to Minneapolis. I needed a dose of it.